One in eight women suffer invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, a new report from the American Cancer Society shows. Every year, 12,000 women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer. This makes less than 5 percent of all breast cancer cases. These figures also show breast cancer as being the most common cancer found in women under 40. During her lifetime, a woman has a 1 in 8 risk of developing breast cancer – the risk increases with age. Whatever age you are, you need to be aware of risk factors. “As a woman, you need to know how your breasts look normally. You should inform your doctor if something seems amiss,” explains Dr. Esther Dubrovsky, M.D., a breast surgeon at Houston Methodist Breast Care Center. Here are common breast cancer symptoms you need to know.

1. Discolored Breast Skin

This symptom is common in women above the age of 60. “It’s usually a symptom of a rare type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer,” explains Dr. Jane Mendez, M.D., surgical oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute. During a breast cancer x-ray, your results may display an abnormal mammogram. In such a scenario, you need to understand how a discoloration presents itself. “You want to check if your breast is red, inflamed, or feels heavy. Additionally, age and health history also matter,” says Dr. Mendez.

2. Nipple Discharge

You might observe discharge from the nipple. This discharge can be thin or thick and can vary in color from clear to milky to yellow or red. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s normal to have a milky discharge from the nipples. However, you should see a doctor if your nipple discharge is different. While most nipple discharge is noncancerous, it can be a sign of breast cancer in some people. Some other common reasons for nipple discharge are breast infections, different medical conditions, side effects of birth control pills, among others.

3. Lumps

“Having a lump or a mass that doesn’t hurt is one of the first signs of breast cancer,” explains Dr. Roshni Rao, M.D., Chief of breast surgery at Columbia University Medical Center. In most cases, the lump can be hard or soft. It can also be movable or fixed. If you feel anything different or abnormal in the breast area, get checked immediately. If you had a lump that turned out to be a cyst or fibroadenoma in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s the same: you need to show your doctor every lump.

4. Swelling

This is another early sign of breast cancer. Even though slight changes in breast size are expected, an abnormal change may indicate inflammation. If you experience a sudden change in breast size, you need to see a doctor. Additionally, you want to see a healthcare practitioner if a particular breast area is becoming fuller than the rest. However, swelling shouldn’t be confused with breasts of varying sizes. It’s normal to have a slight difference in size from one breast to the other.

5. Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are a group of tissues that filter fluid and capture dangerous cells. These dangerous cells include viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells. When a cancer cell leaves the breast, it first travels to the underarm lymph node region. This is the same side as the affected region: you will note swelling in this area. Sometimes, you can also notice the same changes around the collarbone area. They mostly feel like small and swollen lumps and may be tender to touch. Ensure you speak to your doctor about these changes.

6. Redness

If you have breast cancer, it can cause changes to your skin. These skin changes will appear discolored or even bruised. Sometimes, the skin could be red or purple or have a blue tint. If you have not experienced any trauma to the breast to warrant these changes, see a doctor. Additionally, you also want to get a medical check if breast discoloration doesn’t appear, even if trauma was the cause.

7. Shrinkage of One Breast

If both your breasts used to be packed and you notice one is visibly smaller, something is wrong. “If there’s a tumor in one breast, the tumor stretches the skin and ligaments. This causes the shrinkage of one breast,” explains Dr. Mendez. Typically, a lot of your breast tissue is fat. “When you notice a sudden shrinkage, it means the cancer is eating up this fat,” adds Dr. Mendez.

8. Skin Dimpling

This can be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer – this is an aggressive type of breast cancer. In some cases, cancer cells can cause a buildup of lymph fluid in the breast. This leads to swelling, dimpling, or pitted skin. If you notice any signs of skin dimpling, ensure you speak with your doctor. Clinicians refer to this change in the skin’s appearance as “peau d’ orange.” This is because dimpled skin is similar in color to the surface of an orange.

9. Veiny Breasts

Veins are essential in the circulation of blood inside your body. While they’re sometimes not visible, they’re there. Your veins might be more visible through the skin than at other times, especially in the breasts. IBC (Inflammatory Breast Cancer) is a type of breast cancer with visible symptoms on the breast’s surface. Sometimes, new visible veins are caused by breastfeeding or weight gain. However, if veins appear near any other changes in the breast, ensure you speak with a doctor immediately.

10. Change in Nipples

Check your nipples during a self-exam. Changes in the size, shape, and firmness of the nipples can indicate an internal breast tissue problem. Sometimes, the nipple will appear to have turned in on itself. If a nipple problem is discovered, get in contact with a doctor. He or she can perform a scan to establish the cause.
Health experts recommend familiarizing yourself with how your breasts look and feel. This way, it’s easy to notice any changes when they happen. If you experience an abnormal breast change, this is your body’s message that it needs medical attention. Also, conduct self-exams regularly. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit a doctor or fail to conduct annual mammograms.\

Photo by Angiola Harry on Unsplash




I've been writing since 2008 about a wide range of topics. I also love making furniture in my spare time, and birdwatching with my wife near our home in southern England.

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